The Heart of God

By Ben Swift

“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” This almost throwaway line has become somewhat cliché in modern conversation but I suspect its origins are more closely tied to a place of great tragedy and loss. Deep down, it probably speaks to some of our greatest fears. As we naturally come to deeply love the people and things of this life, doesn’t the potential of losing them sometimes become more emotionally crippling than even the fear of death itself?

When things go wrong and they always will at some point in our lives, we often seek to blame someone or something for the injustice that has taken place. The ultimate blame however, is often directed at God himself.

As if by some divine rite, mere human beings often stand in judgement of the Judge; accusing little clay pots finding fault in the work of the Master Potter.

Surely if God were a God of love he would end our suffering and bring about peace and prosperity for us all? How can a God who really cares appear so withdrawn from the cries of his creation?

“I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me.” (Job 30:20)

But have we really humbled ourselves enough to really consider the answers to these types of questions? And what of the consequences? For if God really was to eliminate all suffering he would have to eliminate sin and consequently all of humanity. There would be no one left to enjoy the peace.

For these are human questions and like Job we need to hear God’s answers, even when they stand far apart from the opinions of the world. We need to draw closer to the heart of God.

God’s ability to relate to his image bearers and the depth of his love are infinitely greater than we can ever comprehend. He does however, place in our possession, powerful, historical and scriptural accounts that through the work of his Spirit, can take us to a place of understanding; a place where our heart strings may become entwined with his, if even only for a moment, as we come to grasp just a little of the sacrifice he has made for us.

A powerful lesson can be learned about the depth of God’s love for us when we consider the story of Abraham and his beloved son Isaac. For a parent, the thought of losing a child and for some the experience of losing a child is as devastating a blow that life can deliver. So when Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice his precious son we can come to understand the mental torment this would have brought about.

A.W. Tozer in his book, ‘The Pursuit of God’, expresses Abraham’s torment on the night before he would sacrifice his son: The sacred writer spares us a close-up of the agony that night on the slopes near Beersheba when the aged man had it out with his God, but respectful imagination may view in awe the bent form and convulsive wrestling alone under the stars.

Interestingly, it’s at the point when we come to empathize with Abraham in the sacrifice he was willing to make for God that we can truly understand a little of the depth of love God has for his people including us. When all seemed lost for Isaac and his final heart beat was fast approaching, God intervened.

“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” He said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” (Genesis 22:12)

Surely as God provided not only a ram in place of Isaac, but also his one and only Son with whom He is well pleased, we can start to comprehend the true sacrifice made by him, an act of love so profound that while our hearts were far from him he was crucified for our sin.

‘Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and to cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.’ (Isaiah 53:10)

And so it is that the Triune God shows love for his image bearers in that the Father has given the Son with whom he is well pleased, the Son has given his life for the ransom of many, and the Holy Spirit has been given so that we may grow in faith through the life changing grace offered to us.

The truth is that God is far from being removed from the lives of his people. He knows all about suffering because he knows all about relationship. After all, the three persons of the Trinity have been living in a perfect love relationship eternally. While many aspects of God will remain incomprehensible one thing is clear:

God is a God of love, relating to himself in perfect love and therefore suffered greatly while the Son was cruelly sacrificed under the weight of humanity’s sin.

While pain, suffering and loss will continue to rear their ugly heads throughout our lives, it should bring us comfort to know that when we need a God who is bigger than ourselves and who can relate to the anguish that so often accompanies loss and grief, our God understands and loves us. Not only does he want what’s best for us but he’s already taken care of it; as Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished.”

“Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

Father Time

By Ben Swift

Once a man is united to God how could he not live forever? Once a man is separated from God, what can he do but wither and die? (C.S. Lewis)

With every beat of our heart, with every tick of the clock, the time we have in this life edges closer to the finish line. If nothing else, this realisation should have us thinking about what it all means; this life we have as a human being.

If there’s one thing shared amongst western cultures, it is perhaps their relationship with time. As human beings so often do when it comes to making sense of life, things that are abstract or incomprehensible are reformed to reflect something more acceptable. They are moulded or created into something that better reflects finite human thinking. Perhaps this explains how the character, ‘Father Time’, came to be; an elderly bearded man with wings, seemingly depicting ‘time’ itself.

In this scientific age, it’s reasonable to believe that most people would not take seriously the idea of time having any link to a god, let alone the Christian God. But can God really be removed from this concept without losing real perspective on how we are to relate to time and to God himself? And if God is the Creator of all things, unbound by time, then wouldn’t that make time simply another aspect of creation with a beginning and an end?

It is often said that many aspects of God will always be hidden from humanity, at least on this side of Christ’s return. What God reveals to us about himself through Christ, The Scriptures and in the general revelation of creation is all we are able to comprehend about what He is like. Regular human beings can only perceive what exists in four dimensions – one being time. The dimension of time certainly leads to many questions causing us much philosophical angst as we journey through life.

I can still hear the voice of my high school headmaster trying to impart his knowledge based on life experience. “If only we could put an old head on your young shoulders, you could all be saved from learning things the hard way.”

Ironically the youth never heed this advice but continue to hand it over years down the track to the next generation.

How often do we hear lyrics that yearn for the ability to control time? After all isn’t this exactly what humans seek, to control everything for their own purposes? When The Rolling Stones once suggested that time was on our side, they probably weren’t reciting popular opinion. It’s more probable for individuals to relate to Cher in wishing to turn back time. Perhaps one of the songs that speaks most deeply to our lives came from the Australian band ‘Powderfinger’. Consider their words from the song ‘These Days’:
“It’s coming round again, the slowly creeping hand, of time and its command… These days turned out nothing like I had planned.”

And isn’t this the case for so many of us? I suspect that the moment our older experienced head sits firmly attached to our older body we can only reflect on what might have been if we’d only done things differently; if only the shackles of time could be loosened and we could have just one more roll of the dice.

“But the day comes when you’re lying in the bath and you notice you are thirty-nine and that the way you’re living bares scarcely any resemblance to what you thought you always wanted, and yet, you realize you got there by a long series of choices.” (Francis Spufford)

The writer of Ecclesiastes made it his mission in life to try out everything under the sun but often concluded all to be meaningless and warns those who are young that time has us all in its grip; life should not be wasted.

“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them.’” (Ecclesiastes 12:1)

Without God and the hope that exists in his grace, life in the review mirror can sometimes appear meaningless or plunge us into a pool of regret. Our hope in Christ should remind us that the keys to the shackles of time are not in the hands of Father Time but rather in the hands of the one who created time in the beginning. He will bring time to an end and with it the consequences of our poor decisions that seem to hold us to ransom each day. If our lives are really like sands through the hourglass, that hourglass has been given an expiry date. Christ has promised to set us free from the decay of this cursed life. Those who belong to him will no longer feel the need to dwell on the past but will live in his presence eternally in the absence of time and its command.

To overcome the temptation to look constantly into the rearview mirror of life – as Lot’s wife did when she was transformed to a pillar of salt – it is a difficult thing. It goes against our natural way of thinking and in fact our tendency to focus on ourselves rather than Christ. As we remind ourselves as to who we belong to and the truth about time, perhaps we can join with the Psalmist as he prays:

“Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath.” (Psalm 39:4-5)

And The Word Was God

By Ben Swift

“Let your Christianity be so unmistakeable, your eye so single, your heart so whole, your walk so straightforward that all who see you may have no doubt whose you are and whom you serve.” (J.C. Ryle)

My father once told me a story of an elderly lady who attended his church for many years, only to abandon her faith upon hearing a sermon that conflicted with her long held belief that Jesus Christ was in fact an Englishman. While this may seem ridiculous to most Christians, it does raise an important question. “How is it that any person within a church community can come to hold beliefs that lie so far from the truth revealed in God’s Word?”

Isn’t this the same problem that enables agenda driven television networks to host guests claiming to represent main stream Christianity whilst simultaneously rejecting the resurrection of Christ?

To truly understand how this happens I believe we need to travel all the way back to the beginning; to where the heart of humanity first sprouted from the seed that gave birth to our inherent, fallen nature. Since that dark day, humans have continued in their thirst for equality with God, to know his thoughts, to even control his thoughts, all in the name of ‘the self’. It seems we are not nor have we ever been exclusively satisfied with the Logos; God revealed to us in Christ. Instead we seek to comprehend the incomprehensible, the hidden God, a God that in the end is often created in our own image according to human reason. This is how – even those who attend Christian churches – come to adopt twisted, alternative versions of God’s truth. A Jewish rabbi can even lose his historical roots and somehow become an Englishman.

Perhaps this is why John Calvin suggests, “The human heart has so many recesses for vanity, so many lurking places for falsehood, is so shrouded by fraud and hypocrisy that it often deceives itself.”

Without eyes focused firmly on Christ, Christians are not exempt from this self-deceit.

Is it not true that even those who are being transformed to be more Christ-like, contrary to their ultimate longings to live in communion with God, still fall short of the perfection of Christ? Are they not at war with their own tendencies to manipulate God for their own purposes? Surely we all at times need to be dragged back into Job’s quivering boots to be confronted once again by the truth about our place before God as mere mortals?

“Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? I will question you and you shall answer me….Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him.” (Job 38:1-3 and 40:2)

What then is the answer to the ongoing conflict within the hearts and minds of Christians and between those within the church? Surely our interpretation of Scripture and the authority we assign to it correlates with the opinions we form and the decisions we make both on a personal and church community level?

To live a Christian life is to follow Christ and if we are to walk in his light we need to recognise and listen to his voice. Perhaps this is why Jesus challenges us with these words right before his parable about building our lives on the rock that is himself:
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46)

These words should sink deep into the conscience of anyone seeking to truly follow Christ. Wisdom is not formed by the one who is blown around by the influences of alternative truths but rather in submitting to the Logos; God’s wisdom revealed in Christ. This is why theologian, Martin Luther, wrote the following words:
“The Power of Scripture is this: it will not be altered by the one who studies it; instead it transforms the one who loves it.”

“He who has made himself master of the principles and text of the word, runs little risk of committing errors. A theologian should be thoroughly in possession of the basis and source of faith – that is to say, the Holy Scriptures.” (Luther)
It’s once we cease to test doctrines and interpret Scripture with Scripture that the foundations upon which we stand soon crumble, leaving us with a mishmash of subjective opinions formed by serve-serving human beings.

Without being anchored to the rock of the Logos, the Church and its’ people become increasingly indistinguishable from the world around them. The light that once shone brightly becomes hidden under the bushel of tolerance for alternative truths and current agendas trending in society.

What we desire as Christians should align with what God wants. This is the path to the narrow gate through which we enter his pastures and his rest. Jesus words are very clear:
“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

With childlike humility we are called to submit to what has been revealed to us in God’s Word. He knows what leads us to life because he is life, having spoken all of life into being; breathing breath into each one of us. And so as we seek to interpret the complex world in which we live, let it be done through the wisdom of Christ. When we seek illumination to interpret his Word, let our interpretations be tested with his inspired Scripture. When anybody makes a claim on God’s behalf, let the claim be analysed under the exposing light of the Logos.

Is it clear then to whom you belong? Is there any doubt in the eyes of those in your life as to the source of your faith, hope and truth?

In the words of Jesus not long before his execution, “Not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Imprinting God

By Ben Swift

“God’s people are holy and called to be holy, set apart by God to be conformed to his Son and to live to his glory.” (Herman Bavinck)

When viewing the cosmos through a God focused lens, you will find there are lessons to be learned almost everywhere you turn, but who would have thought we could expand our theological knowledge by studying the behaviour of newly hatched goslings?

A famous study conducted by scientist Konrad Lorenz led to the understanding of a process called ‘imprinting’. Lorenz divided a clutch of graylag goose eggs, leaving some with the mother and placing the rest in an incubator. Those that hatched with the mother showed normal goose behaviour, following her about and learning from her until their coming of age so to speak. The goslings that hatched in the incubator were first exposed to the researcher and from that day on steadfastly followed Lorenz, demonstrating no recognition of their true mother or other adults of their own species. In a nutshell this demonstrates how imprinting works in the animal kingdom.

As human beings who have been purposefully created to live in relationship with our Creator we must ensure that we go through a process of imprinting that focus’ on the Triune God. There are many voices that seek our attention but only one that truly knows and cares for who we are, what we need and why we are here. This is what Jesus means when he teaches:

“When he [the good shepherd] has bought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger’s voice.” (John 10:4-5)

But how can God be the object of our imprinting, particularly as He is incomprehensible and often shrouded in mystery and we’re not goslings, we’re relatively complex human beings? Obviously from a human perspective, much of what we have learned from the moment of our first breath has been influenced by our parents or those closest to us as we move through life. The idea of imprinting by focusing on what God has revealed about Himself can only be understood in terms of our spiritual rebirth. From the moment we die to our old self and are spiritually reborn in Christ, we are to look to Him, follow His voice and learn from His ways. If our imprinting is not based on Christ, make no mistake, we will imprint on alternatives and the world offers us plenty of alternatives to choose from.

It is here that we need to come to terms with our inability as humans to bring about any spiritual rebirth. And as the saying goes, there is no such thing as the evolution of the human spirit. We just can’t change ourselves in a way that makes ourselves right with God. Rather we must acknowledge that our ability to turn to Christ – contradictory to our fallen nature – lies solely in the transforming power of God.

Theologian Karl Barth knew this well. He stressed that humans can know God only when God comes to them in an act of revelation. There is no way from man to God, only from God to man. This revelation is given once and for all in Jesus Christ and he comes to human beings in the existential moment in their lives. (Berkhof)

It is exclusively through the transforming work of the Holy Spirit that we are able to recognize Christ for who He is, and the truth in His words.

‘He [Christ] was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:10-13)

For God to be the subject of our imprinting we must, from the moment our eyes are opened, focus on Christ as He is God revealed. As theologian Martin Luther once suggested, we must flee from the hidden God and look to God as revealed in Christ. This is why the Scriptures say:

‘We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true – even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.’ (1 John 5:20)

In the animal kingdom, imprinting has been found to be crucial to the survival of individuals of certain species as they learn how to survive in their environment. Unlike those in the animal kingdom relying on critical moments in the early stages of their lives to learn what is needed, those who belong to Christ are not subject to the laws of nature and key imprinting moments critical to the survival of the fittest. God has come to us, His Spirit works within us and guides us in truth as His ways are imprinted on our hearts. It’s all in God’s time and we are in His hands. It’s no wonder Jesus told his disciples to follow Him because His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

Surely as the Holy Spirit makes it clear to us as to whom we belong, we are free to follow Christ as He reveals Himself to us, prayerfully seeking to be transformed to be more like Him each day. Ultimately our eternal lives depend on Him.

Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end. Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart. Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight. (Psalm 119:33-35)

Dark and Light

By Ben Swift

“For many in our high-paced world, despair is not a moment; it is a way of life.” (Ravi Zacharias)

As Christians we are taught that Christ is our light and we are to be reflectors of His light to the world; a world that hides from the light, only to stumble around in the confusion of darkness.

“In him [Christ] was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (John 1: 4-5)

But how deep a hole do we have to find ourselves in before the light no longer penetrates to a point where we can be guided by it, to absorb its life-giving power and to reflect it to those around us?

These types of existential questions are nothing new though. I suspect they are as ancient as the fall of humanity. They are, however, questions we need to confront as Christians before the darkness that infuses our minds consumes the healthy grey matter. Take for example the words of the Sons of Korah:

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my saviour and my God.” (Psalm 42:11)

The world in which many of us live, high-paced and corporately driven, is unapologetically non-conducive to the way Christ teaches us to live; a life eternally connected with our Creator. Is it no wonder mental health is such an overwhelming and growing problem impacting directly or indirectly possibly anyone we meet, including the person in the mirror?

Has anyone on their journey through life not questioned how they have somehow arrived at this unforeseen and possibly unbearable destination that is the present? If we could only wind back the hands of time, correct the irreversible consequences of our naïve choices. The hole we find ourselves in may not be our intended situation but nevertheless the machine that is western society more often than not holds us tight in its grip.

As we attend church services on Sunday mornings we are often challenged about the way we live and how much time we dedicate to God but any glint of enthusiasm to change our ways is often snuffed out before we even leave the carpark. The worries of this world, of this life, seem to have us by the scruff.

It’s as though every time we try and fill some of our hole with a shovel full of soil, the world sends in a high-powered digging machine to take us deeper.

Karl Barth in his commentary, ‘The Epistle to the Romans’, puts it this way: “Bereft of understanding and left to themselves, men are at the mercy of the dominion of the meaningless powers of the world; for our life in this world has meaning only in its relation to the true God.”

There is only one ultimate way out of this dilemma; one way to bring light back into our lives and to start living for the purpose we were created for. Something must be sacrificed. Time, wealth, possessions, popularity, all of those potential idols that the world assures us maketh the person. How can we possibly seek to spend time with God, listening to his voice and leaning on his truth, if all of our time is spent chasing the things that are here today and gone tomorrow?

“And I saw that all labour and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbour. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 4:4)

Deep down humanity craves meaning and that meaning, if we openly receive it, has been revealed to us in Christ. We must open our eyes and minds to the light that shines through what Christ has to say and we can’t do this if we continue to let the world deepen our hole, filling it with all-consuming darkness.

When the darkness in our lives impacts our grey matter and even our soul’s core, the load can seem too much to bear. Christ knows this all too well but he, unlike the gods we must strive to measure up to, reaches out to us with words of everlasting comfort that cannot be found to exist outside of his Grace. This is the comfort that can only be offered by a God who knows us intimately because he created us with love and purpose in mind.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11: 28-30)

These are words to cling to; words that shine light into the dark holes in which we often reside. Let them bring meaning to your life in a way that nothing else can. In the end a life rooted in Christ is the only real life and when we live out of tune with our Father’s song, we should not be surprised by the impact that darkness can have on the wellness of our souls.

Apologetics Beyond Mount Stupid

By Ben Swift

In Christian circles, the art of apologetics – providing a reasonable defence for the Christian Faith – is becoming increasingly prominent, particularly as social media simplifies the process of conversation on a global scale. How can we become more effective in the area of Christian apologetics then?

I believe a good starting point can be found in the following words of Forest Gump. “Stupid is as stupid does.” Now stay with me here. Forest makes a good point. Stupidity is not defined by one’s intellect but rather by one’s actions. In the realm of apologetics, to be arrogant is to appear stupid and we need to keep in mind that we are called to reflect Christ in our conversations and Christ was gentle and humble in heart.

So how do we avoid appearing stupid when it comes to our ability to argue for our faith? Firstly, we should learn from a simple but interesting study conducted in 1999 by Dunning and Kruger in what became known as the ‘Dunning-Kruger Effect.” This study demonstrated a psychological phenomenon in which individuals foolishly believe they have enough knowledge about a subject to be vocal about it, despite not having obtained enough knowledge around the subject to engage in discussions that reflect any real wisdom on their behalf.

Perhaps the more well-known, less scientific version of the Dunning-Kruger Effect is referred to as climbing Mount Stupid. Until one reaches the peak of Mount Stupid they will continue in their delusion of expertise until finally they reach the point where they come to terms with their own ignorance. At this point they become willing to slide to the bottom of the uncomfortable slope where they can resume a realistic building of knowledge whist in a state of humility.

For the Christian apologist, the quicker one can ascend Mount Stupid the better. Let’s just get it out of the way! The advantage the Christian has, however, is that Christ demands humility from us from the beginning; He asks that we make our descent before him as we come to a child-like dependence on him from the moment we are called.

And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew: 18:3)

Having contemplated the need to avoid being stuck on the ignorant side of Mount Stupid, we need to consider what the apologist needs to immerse themselves in so as to provide reasonable arguments for their faith. Strangely, I believe we can learn here from an unlikely teacher, the fighter. If you’ve ever had a conversation with an experienced fighter, one with extensive experience in the ring, they will tell you that no training measures up to real combat. Take for instance the words of Mike Tyson: “Everyone has a plan – until they get punched in the face.” In other words, having conversations and healthy debates with people regarding the reasonableness of the Christian Faith will swiftly deliver blows to areas of our personal ignorance, helping to point us to where our knowledge needs to grow. Of course, we can also learn from those who have many years of experience answering the deepest of questions; responding with reason to the unreasonable.

Respected apologists such as Alister McGrath and Ravi Zacharias come to mind.

An excellent starting point in the apologist’s journey would be to consider: “Does Christianity and its understanding of God, stand tall when subject to questions of reason?”

Throughout history there have been several well-reasoned arguments for the existence of God.

Cosmological arguments that revolve around the need for an intelligent creator, the mind and energy behind the Big Bang and thus the birth of the universe have been discussed extensively. Moral arguments have been put forward suggesting that humanity’s sense of right and wrong must originate from an ultimate source of morality being God. It is important to keep in mind though that well-reasoned arguments in these areas remain unable to provide reasonable proof beyond any doubt for the existence of the Christian God. We must as apologists come to terms with the fact many answers can only be left to faith whether others accept this fact or not.

This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:13-14)

The question of whether Christianity can stand tall in the face of reason will never be answered with a resounding, “Yes!” For if reason alone could explain the reality of God, then faith would become obsolete. The good news for the Christian however, is that by the ongoing, transforming work of the Holy Spirit, we are able to understand the reasonableness of our faith.

And so as Christian apologists we must arrive at the point of understanding that the God given gift of faith, provides us with the only means of truly comprehending God’s truth. That is the truth about his existence, his nature and his revelation and plan for his people. Let us therefore, seek to use our intellect in a way that is humbly and spiritually driven, prayerfully acknowledging that any effective apologetics on our behalf is completely dependent on God and his purposes; apologetics beyond Mount Stupid.

The Contentious Cross

By Ben Swift

“The cross stands high above the opinions of men and to that cross all opinions must come at last for judgement.” (A.W. Tozer)

Throughout history nothing has been the cause of more contention and division than the cross of Christ. But why?

For the most part, the divisive nature of the message of the cross stems from what happened following the death of Christ. Apart from those who follow the teachings of Islam, it is widely accepted as historical fact, both inside and outside of the Christian Faith that Jesus of Nazareth lived and died according to the accounts presented in the Gospels. It is what Christianity proclaims happened next in Christ’s resurrection that draws a deep, dividing line in the sand.

Our personal view on the cross will to a large extent depend on our view of the truth about ourselves in relation to sin and our need for salvation. Whilst it is a fundamental belief in Christian circles that we have inherited a sinful nature from our ancestor Adam, this is by no means a universal, worldly understanding of the human condition.

One classic example is the Hindu perspective on sin and salvation. In 1983, a lecture was held in the first Parliament of Religions in Chicago where Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu reformer, said, “The Hindu refuses to call you sinners. Ye are the children of God; the sharers of immortal bliss, holy and perfect beings. Ye divinities on earth, sinners? It is a sin to call a man a sinner. It is a standing libel on human nature.” (Stott, John, Evangelical Truth)

For one to follow a teaching that defines humanity as anything other than innately sinful and needing salvation from a source that lay beyond the self, the cross of Christ will surely seem foolishness and even offensive.

For the Jews of Jesus day, to be crucified in the humiliating and torturous way as had been perfected by the Roman executioners was far removed from their idea of messianic victory. To be crucified was to be cursed (Deuteronomy 21: 22-23) and surely this was not the destiny of their awaited Messiah. According to their Scriptures though, the crucifixion was exactly what had been foretold by the prophet Isaiah. Take for example a small section of his prophetic words:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53: 5-6)

Surely from the moment human beings turned their backs on their Creator, feeding on the forbidden fruit that was to open their eyes and ears to the delusion of becoming a God unto themselves, they have refused to believe the truth, exchanging it for a lie. It’s not surprising then that when many seek a form of spirituality they are drawn to teachings that affirm their personal goodness and individualistic right to divinity.

It is for this reason that we as Christians must place at the centre of our lives the cross of Christ. To deny the resurrection and what Christ achieved on the cross is to deny Christ Himself. If the resurrection is a lie then Paul, a great leader in the early church would have to have been a false teacher. The Christian hope he spoke of in being resurrected in Christ would be worthless. But as any respectable historian would have to concede, for Paul to lie in this way just doesn’t add up. Why would a highly respected and positioned, Christian-hating Roman citizen suddenly give up everything and devote his entire life to serving and suffering for the one he was so adamant on destroying? There really is only one explanation. He came to know the risen Christ. The reality of Paul’s conversion can be clearly seen in his new found perspective on the cross.

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)

Paul was well aware of the divisiveness the cross brings to a world of people who reject Christ.

“Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified; a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 22-24)

The question that we must all face is one that can often cause intermittent division within our own minds. You could say that there is a psychology associated with the cross as we wrestle with the truth about our need for a saviour in a world that denies this reality. Hope, however, can only be found at the foot of the cross. It is only here that we can find the rest we all seek; the rest that can be found exclusively in the grace of our saviour, Christ. Because He has risen, we who are in Him will also rise. There is no psychology more positive than that.

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15: 20-22)